About Me

My photo
As I begin this blog I have begun my 50th year, and that sounds both scary and exhilirating. I was raised in a Christian home by two loving and faithful parents, for which I am forever grateful. I have served the Lord my entire life, and look forward to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, where I will be united with all who have come before me in the Lord and all who will succeed me. I am married to a beautiful woman that I met in China in 1985 when I was teaching English in the city of Changchun, Jilin Province, China, and we have two teenagers that we love to pieces and delight in bragging on. I live in the Chicago area, and all of my career has been as an educator, teaching the English language to international students at the collegiate and university level, but for the last few months I've been laid off. Here I am, wondering why I'm in this place, why this fork in the road has been placed before me. I'm contemplating going into a completely new direction, of becoming an entrepeneur and starting my own business, another thing I find both scary and exhilirating. This blog will be a chronicle of what unfolds.


A Word About the Title of This Blog

The Bear represents my heritage:

I am Ben, born 1958,
the son of Ben, born 1930,
the son of Benjamin Siever 1885-1943,
the son of Jacob "Seven Folds" 1845-1911,
the son of Michael 1814-1898,
the son of "Red" Yost 1775-1856,
the son of John 1732-1813,
the son of "Immigrant" Christian , born c.1700 in Switzerland, died 1775 in Berks County, PA.

The area my ancestors came from is called the Bernese Oberland, the region around Bern, which is now the Swiss capital. Bern means "bear" and a bear is featured on the Bern flag. They immigrated in 1742. There were two families on the ship, one headed by Immigrant Christian and the other by a certain "Widow Barbara", whose deceased husband is believed to have been Christian's brother. I have no way to know what any of them looked like, but one of Widow Barbara's sons was called Strong (German "Stark") Jacob. According to accounts, he was a massive man of great strength, hence his nickname, but he was also a pacifist who took great pains to never be violent with anyone, even when provoked. He had a son named Christian, whose nickname was "der Dick Christel" (literally "thick-through"), and this man had a son called "Big Dan." Obviously they had the genes for size. Then you add in my great grandfather, who was so large and ponderous that he was given the nickname "Seven Folds" for all his double chins, and my dad, who has never been extra-large or anything, but whose co-workers sometimes called him "Gentle Ben" for his easy going ways, and you can see that I am descended from a line of bearlike men. We aren't the ferocity of wolves, the duplicity of serpents, nor the royalty of eagles, just men that are big, strong, unfussy eaters, affable, good natured and middle class. I am a bear!

The Dragon has a number of connections. First and foremost, it represents my wife, who is from China, and thus it pertains to my interest in Chinese people and culture. When I was studying Mandarin, I asked her to give me a Chinese name. She chose "Bin-Long" (bean-loong). "Bin" means "talkative, well mannered, well educated" and is often translated "urbane." She chose it because she felt it described me and it sounds like Ben. She then told me, "I chose 'Long' because it means 'dragon,' and I know how much you love dragons!" Lastly, dragons represent to me the exotic, the far away, the mythical, which has always drawn me. I can at times be a grumpy, overweight, slovenly bear, but in my heart, I dream dragon dreams. I have always loved Tolkien, fantasy and science fiction literature, folktales, epic sagas, the distant past and the distant future. It's what drew me to China in the first place, I think. It's why I enjoy thinking about all kinds of non-standard and even bizarre things. Coiled up inside, I am a dragon!

Family Pictures

Family Pictures
Susan and Maranna (8th grade graduation)


Maranna's last birthday and new laptop

Julian being all serious

Julian being all unserious

the two together

And finally, me

Saturday, March 7, 2009


John Eldridge wrote a book entitled Wild at Heart, and it spoke very strongly to me (and to many others I might add; it was a bestseller). Near the end, he recounts picking up a book at random in a secondhand bookstore, and browsing it to discover a sentence that hit him between the eyes. The author, Gil Bailie, shared some wisdom a mentor had given him:
Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
That statement has been on my mind a lot lately. I have come to a juncture in my life that I never expected. I'm 50 and I thought that by this time I would be near the apex of my career, respected, consulted, and getting ready for the long final cruise toward retirement. Instead I find myself unemployed. I'm at zero and not quite sure where to turn. I have been feeling restless with the idea of returning to the classroom, to what I've always done. I feel my strengths could lead in several directions, but where exactly?
John Eldridge speaks of the need of the male heart to face and overcome risk-- run the rapids, climb a peak, dive from a high cliff. I ask myself if this isn't tied up with the reason for me being placed in this situation. I'm not one to thirst after risk and dancing out on the end of a limb, far from it-- I've always avoided risk like the plague. But maybe it's time I faced my fears head on and conquered the troll under the bridge. What concerns me so much that I would take on major risk? One thing I care deeply about is the natural world God has created and our need to be good stewards of it. Ever since my wife and I bought our house in 1992, I have rediscovered the beauty of gardening. It was another hot, sweaty chore to be endured when I was younger, but I learned what a great pleasure it is to turn the earth, enrich it, sow seeds, and reap the results. I've become passionate about composting and organic gardening, just like my parents were all my growing up years. I truly delight in taking kitchen waste and returning it to the earth, where it will feed the soil ecosystem and eventually me and my family. I worry about the fact that we as a culture casually discard so much, dump it into a landfill (a glorified gigantic diaper, when you think abut it), where it either leaches toxins or produces smelly methane gas to further warm the planet. Tackling this problem is something that truly makes me come alive. The question I face is-- Can I find some way to help heal the earth, and make a living at it?
Two aphorisms have been on my lips a lot lately:
1) It's not waste until you waste it.
2) Waste is a resource in the wrong place.
How can I turn what no one wants into something good and positive that everyone could benefit from? The answer I've found myself turning back to again and again: vermiculture. No, wait, that's the fancy knockout word. Let's get blunt: worms. Yes, slimy, blind, deaf little hermaphroditic invertebrates that eat dirt. Let me explore my idea at greater depth in a later post. Instead I'll end here with another quotation from Wild at Heart, from the poetry of Edgar Lee Masters:
I have studied many times
The marble which was chiseled for me--
A boat with a furled sail at rest in the harbor
In truth it pictures not my destination
But my life
For love was offered me, and I shrank from its disillusionment;
Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid
Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.
Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life
And now I know that we must lift the sail
And catch the winds of destiny
Wherever they drive the boat.
To put meaning in one's life may end in madness,
But life without meaning is the torture
Of restlessness and vague desire--
It is the boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.


  1. Congratulations on your first post! Loved reading it and I wish you all the best on your new endeavor.

  2. Alright! I knew you could do it, Bro! Love the format, the pictures, and your post! I'll be following.